About Me

I am a freelance and academic writer who has written on the topics of multiculturalism, education reform and African American identity for more than fifteen years. I have published articles in Black Issues in Higher Education, Gannett Suburban Newspapers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, History of Education Quarterly, The Washington Post, Teachers College Record, Academe Magazine, Radical Society and the Journal of Hispanic Higher Education. My publications include narrative profiles and stories, op-eds, book reviews, scholarly articles and feature articles, review entries and book chapters.

Boy @ The Window is my memoir that covers my years growing up in poverty and abuse in Mount Vernon, New York (suburban New York City) during the 1980s. It’s a story about the universal search for understanding on how any one of us becomes the person they are despite—or because of—the odds intertwined with my own search for redemption, trust, love, success—for a life worth living. It’s a personal dialogue along with interviews of those who were in my life more than two decades ago. It’s an intellectual and emotional journey that is about our deepest fears and most cherished dreams as much as it is about me and the people I grew up around. Boy @ The Window is about one of the most important lessons of all: what it takes to overcome inhumanity in order to become whole and human again.

I am also the author of Fear of a “Black” America: Multiculturalism and the African American Experience (iUniverse.com, 2004), an in-depth response to the conservative movement’s “Culture Wars” on all things “multicultural.” The book is a combination of his personal vignettes with interviews and historical research to create a semi-scholarly, semi-narrative nonfiction story of African Americans and other groups of color coming to grips with their notions of multiculturalism in education and in their everyday lives.

Outside of my work as a writer, I’ve worked in academia and in the nonprofit world for more than a decade. I currently serve as an Adjunct Associate Professor with University of Maryland University College and have taught as an adjunct professor of African American History and American Education at Carnegie Mellon University, Duquesne University, George Washington University, the University of the District of Columbia and Howard University. I also have been a consultant with Educational Testing Service, American Institutes for Research and the Junior Statesmen Foundation.

For more than four years I served as the Deputy Director of College Access and Success Initiatives with the Center for School and Community Services at Academy for Educational Development (AED – now FHI 360) in Washington, DC and New York City. I previously served as Assistant Director of the New Voices Fellowship Program at AED, a program for emerging leaders in the social justice field.

I have a Ph.D. in History from Carnegie Mellon University, and a B.A. and M.A. in History from the University of Pittsburgh. I live in Silver Spring, Maryland with my wife and my eleven-year old son.

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If you would like to contact me for a book talk, book signing, panel presentation or other speaking engagement, please feel free to email me at decollins1969@icloud.com. I can also be reached via Twitter at @decollins1969. As for engagements focusing on Boy @ The Window, I can touch on one or more of the following issues:

  • what it actually takes to successfully navigate K-12 education as a young and poor Black male, as well as the costs in doing so;
  • the psychological and social aspects of attending a gifted/talented track program, and in ways in which this does and does not prepare students for selective colleges and universities;
  • the path to college, and the psychological and emotional skills needed to be a successful college student (regardless of age);
  • coping strategies for overcoming child abuse and domestic violence while growing up in such a household;
  • the best (and sometimes worst) practices for dealing with issues of Black authenticity and Black perceptions of masculinity, all while confronting one’s own thinking on Blackness and masculinity; and
  • understanding the role of a family’s religious and cultural beliefs (in my case, being a Hebrew-Israelite for three years and a heightened distrust of Whites and authority figures) in our lives and overcoming them on the path to finding God and/or our own sense of the world.

My blog (including my videos, other writings and blog topics) should provide a good sense of what to expect from me.

14 Responses to About Me

  1. James Reel says:

    Dear Professor Collins:

    Idly surfing the Web looking for opinions about “Jewish” Ferengi, I found your post about “Star Trek” and race, which I enjoyed very much. (If it matters, I’m a middle-aged WASP.) A couple of additional points … The main “Latino” Maquis characters turned out to be intelligent (one is an engineer!), courageous, and ultimately right-thinking, among the most valuable leaders on “Voyager,” so I think in the end there was more to it than just casting Latinos for their hot-bloodedness. Also, I was interested as TNG progressed to see that more and more black actors were cast as Klingons–which admittedly ties in with certain stereotypes, but does involve them in what became a complex society, and its leading representative–Worf–turning into quite an interesting character through the course of TNG and DS9.

    And no, I don’t collect Star Trek paraphernalia or attend conventions; I just enjoy (most of) the shows, like you.

    James Reel

    • You’re right on the totality of the Star Trek franchise, of course, but that doesn’t negate the type-casting that took place by any means. This post was me expounding on an observation, as it in no way keeps me from watching TNG or DS9 when I’m in the mood for some Star Trek (as I believe I said in my post). But given that this is a vast representation of human civilization three or four centuries from now, it seems odd that there are concentrations of ethnic groups into these categories. Thanks for the thoughtful comments, in any case.

      Donald

  2. I’m grading Shakespeare papers (which are frying my brain), so I don’t have anything intelligent to say. I just really appreciated this blog entry. I’ve had similar thoughts myself, but I never took the time to put fingers to keyboard. Thank you!

  3. Inna Alanos says:

    Apologies for commenting here but the Star Trek one had comments closed. In light of your thoughts on positive or negative stereotypes, how do you feel about the cultural phenomena of “acting white” term in Black community? (in case it needs explaining, that’s a derogatory term – by Black community – for a minority child who studies hard. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acting_white)

    • Given how my life has evolved over the past four decades, I think I understand what “acting White” means. But the fact is, African Americans have a diversity of opinions on this issue. There are some Blacks, though, who believe in the idea of an authentic Blackness, which I’ve written about as an educator, historian and from a personal perspective over the years. Part of this is generational, and part of this is socioeconomic in nature. And this issue of authenticity has been around since the days of slavery, so it’s not new. What’s new is the increasing push-back from Blacks of various backgrounds about this issue of “acting White.” Bottom line: those who use this phrase tend to be anti-intellectual, distrustful of higher education and as bigoted as any other group in American society toward “others.”

      • Inna Alanos says:

        Sorry, Wasn’t too clear in my question. Do you feel that the fact of how widespread it is in the culture (both the use and the lack of disapproval) has any *material* consequences to the socioeconomic outcomes for Blacks as a group in the 1990-2020 period? It’s clear that you disapprove of it, but do you feel it is a problem that **must** be fixed for Blacks to succeed (beyond mere “bigotry is bad” angle)?

      • Your assumption here is troubling, as if 40 million African Americans all think alike on this topic. Sure, there’s a slice of Blacks who have a litmus test for “authentic” Blackness, and for them, those who can’t meet this test are considered “acting White.” But no, there’s no agreed upon definition for either in African America. Your premise supposes the sociological or psychological effect of this is a lower socioeconomic status for African Americans. Keep in mind that since the 1970s, more than 50 percent of Blacks have been middle or upper middle class, while the poverty rate for Blacks has varied between 25 and 33 percent over the past 40 years. Your question ignores other factors, including de-industrialization, expanding economic inequality, and structural racism as factors that have far more effect on social mobility than a cultural litmus test that a small slice of Blacks strictly adhere to.

        Since you’re reading my black, you may want to refer to the four or so posts I’ve made on the issue of “authentic” Blackness and how I dealt with this growing up. You may also want to read Toure’s Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness (2011) for much more on this issue. Either way, if you get anything out of this at all, it’s the fact that 40 million Blacks cannot possibly hold the same views on any subject, including the notion of “acting White.”

  4. Inna Alanos says:

    Sorry but I did not say (at least that I noticed) anything about “all Blacks”. Merely that the attitude IS widespread (which I hope you will not argue against). It’s not just 10 or 20 vocal people but a statistically meaningful slice. Neither did I anywhere indicate that I hold a (indeed incorrect) view that the “actning white” attitude is the SOLE (or for that matter main) reason for the discrepancy between Blacks and, say, Asians socioeconomically.

    My question was very specifically regarding whether this attitude is **important** – e.g. that without fixing it, addressing any other factors would still not fully (or, possibly, meaningfully) resolve the discrepancy; or that you don’t see it as an important factor AT ALL. Please note that all the other factors have the same negative impact on Asians. Frankly, I couldn’t care less about rationalizations as to WHY such an “acting white” attitude exists – merely interested in whether you consider that attitude an important problem for Blacks to tackle to raise their collective socioeconomic status, or not an important factor (among other factors, of course).

    As far as “structural racism” – too big of a discussion to hold here, but let’s just say as a personal anecdote, 100% of Blacks who I know who studied as hard as I did, are on the same (and sometimes higher) socioeconomic level as me. And before you start spouting empty platitudes about “privilege” – I am an immigrant, grew up in a gang infested part of a city I was born in, came to USA with, basically, proverbial $5 in my pocket and poor English. What I had was willingness to study and work combined 18+ hours a day, instead of “hanging out”, picking up chicks and playing hoops like many of my generation did even when they went to college together with me. Guess what separated those Blacks who succeeded same as me? They worked nearly as hard as I did (I had to work a bit harder due to having been a recent immigrant, just to keep up).

    • I’m sorry, but I think I answered your question already. If you wanted to approach this from a real research perspective, you should’ve been clearer up front. For the third time, I’ve addressed this issue in my blog multiple times. Seriously, for someone who wants to have a conversation on a topic, you have a RUDE conversational style. Please go through my blog before sending me another comment on this topic. Thank you.

  5. Steven Capozzola says:

    Donald:

    Regarding your Nov. 5, 2011 blog item– I’m sorry to see that you’re still harboring anger toward Richard Capozzola (your former high school principal in Mount Vernon).

    “Mr. Cap” was my dad, and I can tell you that he was basically cranky at times toward everyone. He wasn’t predisposed to like or dislike white or black students. He was just, like you said, a “hard ass.” He grew up very poor in the Bronx, put himself through college, and at the close of his career took charge of MVHS for 10 long, hard years. He did a good enough job, though, because he held the school together, and garnered national recognition from the White House. (From what I gather now, conditions there have sadly deteriorated in the ensuing years).

    Anyway, if my dad read what you wrote, he’d probably just shrug his head. He had the admirable quality of not dwelling too much on what others thought of him–something I wish I could learn to do (though I’m just not constituted like him).

    The irony is that my dad was really just a baseball player, and a big baseball fan. His closest friends (many of them from Puerto Rico) were his fellow ball players over the span of many decades– black, white, Italian, whatever. I’m sorry you never got to see that side of him.

    Best of luck with your endeavors,
    Steven Capozzola

    • Steven:

      Thanks for your comment. We had an exchange of comments about your father before, two years ago in the weeks after his passing. The fact is, I don’t harbor anger toward your father. But when I write about my past, I write it within the context of the past, often informed by my own experiences as an educator.

      Like I said two years ago, I expect you to defend your father. From my experiences, though, all of his journey can in no way explain away the way he and the rest of his administrators ran MVHS in the 1980s. That you didn’t experience this at all means that you really don’t have a clue about going to a school where you’re more in fear of security and administrators than you were of any student-on-student violence (real or imagined). Where from day one you know you’re considered a statistic, that you’re seen as a 50-50 graduation prospect. As for the Blue Ribbon Award, I’m familiar enough with the circumstances to know that MVHS won that award on the back of the Humanities Program, a program your father wasn’t exactly fond of (and he let us Humanities students know that on multiple occasions).

      So, from that standpoint, it really doesn’t matter in the context of my own story what your father was like outside of MVHS between 1979 and 1988. He may have been a great person. But in the story that I lived, wrote down, and interviewed former teachers and classmates about, your father wasn’t exactly a transformational educator, as we say in K-16 circles these days. To argue that race or racial bias wasn’t a factor in the politics and policies within Mount Vernon public schools and MVHS is to deny years of research in the education field covering the period of American educational history in the quarter-century after the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Not to mention the politics of education in Mount Vernon from 1954 to the present. In that sense, at least, your father was hardly alone in his triage approach to education at MVHS, and his negative attitudes toward students in general, and Black students specifically.

      May we continue to agree to disagree,
      Donald

  6. Julia says:

    Professor Collins the blog of your life is very interesting. I took some time to see how you have studied history and left a milestone for generations to come about your life.

    Thanks for pushing me in class it has had made me read further for understanding of our culture. The good the bad and the ugly.

    Thanks again,
    Julia

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